-Aide et Action, Cambodia-
Going to school is something that millions of children around the world take for granted and is often just a wish for many in Cambodia.
Srey Neang* is 11, she lives in Bram village in Prey Veng province, Cambodia, in a tiny house.
When she was 6 years old, Neang couldn’t wait to go to school to become a teacher, but her impoverished parents didn’t understand the importance of education and it was another two years before she would begin her studies. “When I saw my friends going to school I was sad that I could not join them,” says Neang.
Shockingly, nearly 20% of children in Southeast Asian countries have never enrolled in formal education, due to poverty, ethnicity, disability and location, according to 2015 research from the Cambodian Consortium for Out of School Children (CCOSC). Meanwhile, only 29% of caregivers understand the importance of education.
Neang’s older sister would teach her the vowels and consonants at home, where they live with their mother, who is a housekeeper, and their father who is a construction worker and their other sister.
Then Damnok Toek, a partner of AEA who rescue children struggling to access education, came to know about Neang. They visited her house and spoke to her parents. When she was 8, Neang finally went to school for the first time.
She is now catching up on her grade 2, at Neak Loeung Drop-In Center, a temporary place where kids get access to education. Children stay there for three years, from grade one to three.
Neang still wants to become a teacher, but she is not excluding becoming a doctor, also. “Education can help me become anything I want” she says.
Thanks to a partnership between Educate A Child and AEA, nearly 60,000 children who are out of school in Cambodia will be able to enroll and finish their primary education by the end of 2017.
Teacher Nhem Saroeuth, 58, says despite missing two years of school, Neang has shown remarkable resilience. “She’s always smiling and always comes top of the class in Khmer and maths,” says Nhem. “She has a great attitude.”
“Some parents go to work in Phnom Penh and are forced to leave the children alone,” says Nhem, adding that instead of school they work to survive. She stressed the importance of learning.
*Srey Neang is pseudonyms in accordance with AEA Child protection policy.